Wednesday, May 17

My Frugal Miser, Summer Edition

It may not officially be summer, but the weather in the Tampa Bay begs to differ.  In exchange for living in paradise six months out of the year, we have six months of living in an oven.  I've chosen travel as the best medicine for dealing with the ailment that is known as stifling heat.

Iceland & Amsterdam

We will kick off our summer with a frugal European tour.  Our Wow Airlines tickets were under $400 each, and we're keeping it low by traveling with backpacks that fit under the seat in front of us.  Not to worry... we are masters at washing clothes in the sink.  Besides, who wants to lug big suitcases around the subway or on foot in the Netherlands?  We're spending three nights in a two bedroom AirBnB apartment just outside Reykjavik.  Those three nights cost less than one night at a hotel in the city.  For the rest of the trip, I redeemed hotel points, so all of our lodging is free.  Our food costs will be higher than normal, and we'll have some other expenses related to tours and admission fees, but it won't be astronomical.

Surgery

After we return from Europe I have to have surgery on my sinuses.  I've had an infection that won't go away.  Since summer is our slow season for work, it makes sense to take care of this now.  Unfortunately, it does mean I had to cancel two jobs I would have worked in June.

Home Remodeling

I hired a contractor to remodel both bathrooms.  Progress in the first bathroom is well underway, and I imagine it will be finished within a week or two.  I've asked the contractor to finish the second bathroom before my surgery.  Depending on cash flow, I have some other jobs around the house I'd like to get done.  The backyard fence is falling apart, and there is a laundry list of other smaller jobs I want to get done.

Belize

If we must deal with the heat, why not do it somewhere exotic?  In August we will spend a week on a small island off the coast of Belize.  Caye Caulker is so small that there are no cars.  We will take a water taxi from the mainland, and a golf cart will carry us to where we will be staying.  We redeemed Southwest points for our flights out of Fort Lauderdale, and I snagged the cheapest tickets possible on Megabus to get from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale.  Our condo on Caye Caulker for the entire week was only $305.  I plan to do as little as possible while there!  Seriously, I'm bringing books to read and ample sunscreen.  We'll surely rent kayaks and maybe visit some Mayan Ruins, but the purpose of this trip is rejuvenation.

Finances

Lastly, I'm getting close to crossing a major threshold financially:  transitioning from paying off debt to accumulating cash.  I started this blog in 2009 when I was looking at hardcore ways to pay off the half a million dollars in debt that I had.  My goal for 2017 is to reduce debt to $150,000, which is more or less the point I am comfortable with long-term.  Towards the end of the summer, I should be able to start allocating excess cash to my E*Trade account.  I'll still be whittling away at debt, but it's going to be super exciting to start building up financial resources for our future.

It's going to be an exciting summer.  What do you have planned?


Friday, May 12

Continuing to Simplify Things

Back in February I reported on some of the things I am doing this year to simplify.  There's really three main areas I am working on:  finances, material possessions, and processes.

Finances

In February I canceled my Chase Ink Business card.  That eliminated a separate log-in (little things count!).  I paid the outstanding balance on that card in April.  Last month I also closed my Chase Sapphire card (the "regular" version, not my coveted Reserve card).  This month I am closing a very small investment account I have at Capital One.  In 2006 I opened it because I was offered a $50 sign-up bonus.  That $50 has now turned into a little over $100.  It doesn't make sense to have this account since I already have an investment account at E*Trade.  I also closed out my Home Depot credit card.

My next challenge will be to close all my accounts with Capital One.  I currently have a personal checking and savings account as well as a business savings account.  I barely use these accounts.  Things get tougher after I tackle this low-hanging fruit, but I have a couple of ideas about what I want to tackle next:  my car loan and student loan.  Both have really low interest rates, so closing them would only serve the purpose of streamlining my finances.  Beyond this, I'll have to look at the credit cards I pay an annual fee on.  But these cards generally have benefits to me that exceed the annual fee, so I'm not sure what I'll end up doing.

Material Possessions

We took a carload of things to Goodwill last month.  Right now we have two vanity units that have been sitting in the living room for a year.  I hired a contractor to remodel the bathrooms, so these vanities will finally be in their proper spot soon.  With meeting season approaching its end, I'll be home more, which means I'll have more time to purge.  This is a task that will never be complete.

Processes

I lump most everything else into "Processes", which includes the mind-clutter I deal with.  Managing receipts for tax purposes, keeping a check on my investments, making sure everything around the house is working and is needed... the things that make life run smoothly.  I would like to take a hard look at how I live my life and figure out what I can do to streamline these processes.

Monday, May 8

My Frugal Miser - April Expenses: $10,113


Even though my April income was solid, my expenses were also high.  The largest expense was in the home repair category, and this expense will continue to be high for the next couple of months.  I hired a contractor to remodel both bathrooms and do a few other minor repairs.  I am paying him in increments as the work is completed.

I made another payment to my periodontist for my second implant.  When done, this one implant is going to cost around $7,000, which seems like a lot for one tooth.

We didn't go on any vacations in April.  I bought a $500 Carnival gift card to take advantage of a promotion at Winn-Dixie.  I'm sure we will use it eventually, but no cruise is currently planned.  I also paid the AirBnB for our August trip to Belize.

Food spending remained high because we traveled so much for work.  Entertainment was also a little high.  Wal-Mart had several bottles of liquor on clearance (less than half price), so I stocked up.  I bought concert tickets to see Cyndi Lauper and Rod Stewart, paid for 6 months of satellite radio, and we went to a couple of concerts at Busch Gardens, where we spent some money on alcohol.

April Expenses:  $10,113

$598 Auto ($74 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $524 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees (annual self-directed IRA fees)
$135 Clothing
$0 Computer
$287 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$358 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$5,336 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$28 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid 2017 health insurance premiums in December 2016)
$0 Investment Expense
$670 Interest Expense*
$1,399 Medical/Dental
$147 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$63 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$244 Utilities
$848 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In April, I paid $650 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Friday, May 5

My Frugal Miser - April Income: $12,402


April was outstanding.  All of my rental properties are rented and the tenants are current with their rent.  I received my quarterly dividend from Vereit, my largest investment.  I had another realized gain on my short sale of Sears Holdings.

On the active side of income (income from working), I was busy.  I worked three long meetings, did some mystery shopping routes (most of the income from the mystery shopping will come in May), and filled in the gaps with Amazon deliveries.  I even threw in a tiny bit of rideshare driving and Postmates deliveries.

April Income: $12,402

$2,385 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$139 Uber
$116 Lyft
$34 Postmates
$879 Amazon Deliveries
$6,611 Rental Income
$1,155 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$960 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$125 Other Sources

Notes:  
  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work.